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The Fall of Rome Essay

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Introduction

The founders of Rome appear to have lived in heroic poverty, sacrificing the little they had to ensure that the empire prospered. However, their successors who had not participated in the struggle to make the empire big and wealthy did not face any pressure to exercise austerity (Brown 57). The new Rome became famous for ostentatious parties and a shared sense of enthusiasm in the high and low classes, who lived a laxer way of life (Brown 57).

As this essay shows, the main reason for the fall of Rome was the lack of financial austerity. The empire grew too big and allowed corruption to reign. It also failed to become innovative in its economic sectors to survive the eventual loss of revenue and gold reserves. When observed in another way, the primary cause of the collapse was the conflict between the need to manage wealth and the desire to spend it.

Moreover, there was a conflict between those who invaded the city and those who lived in the city. Rome also fell because it was expanding. It experimented with the delegation of power to other entities that were not originally Roman, thereby causing the primary ideals and identities, as well as central control of Rome to disappear. Another argument for the fall of Rome is that it did not fall due to an invasion, but it disappeared after losing relevance and being replaced with other civilizations (Ward-Perkins 47-50). This paper will stick to the idea of an actual fall that happened after about 500 years of running as the world’s greatest superpower (Andrews par. 1).

The Main Reasons for the fall of Rome

The major reasons for the collapse of Rome are discussed below. First, there was a persistent invasion of the Barbarian tribes. The prosperity of Rome attracted other civilizations around it, who wanted to overthrow the empire (Thompson 17). They opted to use military invasions to take a part of the empire. They did this from all sides, encroaching a little of the empire’s territory at a time. On its part, the empire did everything possible to keep the invaders away (Andrews par 2). German-speaking groups surrounded the Roman Empire. They fought each other and sometimes colluded to fight the Roman Empire (Heather 54).

Each conquest of the groups around the empire somehow modified the structure and culture of the entire empire. The empire had grown big and multifaceted by the time it fell. The expansion of the Empire also created an additional need for bureaucracy, which would eventually undermine a responsive ruling class. Overall, the inclusion of the Barbarians, a term used to describe the collective tribes surrounding the empire, and the vandals created factions in the Empire and diverted fiscal revenue meant for the capital. With insufficient funds, Rome could not hold together and defeat breakaway groups from the Empire.

Accommodating groups, instead of fighting them, also led to the weakening of the Roman army. The army lost its focus on enemies and became weak in battle following many years of peace (Rosenwein 23). Leaders also became less concerned with security and focused on dealing with bureaucracy to enhance their power in the Empire. The quest for power and greatness among the ruling class led to a continuous progression towards the fall of Rome.

Success in the distant wars that the Roman Empire fought increased the wealth of the Empire. The property was acquired from the defeated groups. However, when the wars diminished, rulers continued to live as if Rome had an unlimited supply of wealth. They failed to notice the consequences of their behavior. There was no way out of the mess other than falling, given the lack of any additional warfare to enrich the coffers of the empire and sustain the extravagance of its people. Foreign citizens had taken a part of the Empire and would later create their empires at the time of the decline. Some of them were the Visigoths, who settled in Moesia after being allowed to do so by Emperor Valens (Waldman and Mason 139).

Rome fell because of internal disintegration. Failure to sustain a strong military and exercise moderation in enjoying its wealth made it vulnerable to any attack. Eventually, Rome went through a severe financial crisis, as it was losing its revenue sources from the areas that the factions had developed when they split from the center of power. Rome also increased in size, but it had not participated in conquests for a long time.

Moreover, it did not have a sufficient source of wealth to support the behavior of its ruling class. The imperial coffers could not keep up with wages and other recurrent demands and fund various projects and traditions at the same time. The only solution at the time was to increase taxation and boost the supply of money. However, these actions led to inflation and increased the division between the rich and the poor.

Rome built an internal enemy to its prosperity, given that many poor people failed to afford the basics of life (Atkins and Osborne 205). The rulers of Rome, such as Constantine, reached the extent of hiring mercenaries to join the military because the population was becoming smaller. This weakened the Roman military further. The trend allowed foreigners to gain control of the Roman military. Eventually, the Germanic Goths and Barbarians had too much influence in the military, and they turned against their Roman employers (Andrews par. 9).

Politicians in Rome had bodyguards. The emperor also had guards. However, with hardly any warfare happening in and out of the Empire, the bodyguards became motivated to use their proximity to power for personal enrichment. Eventually, corruption had become so common that the soldiers who worked as bodyguards became independent from the power of the ruler. Instead, they acted as equal partners in the government. They could decide when to remove an emperor and make a replacement. Such was the extent of their power, which led to more corruption because it made the emperors and politicians bribe them to obtain their protection. In the provinces, the poor workers became disillusioned, as their earnings and taxes paid for the affluent and arrogant behaviors of the patriarch (Ward-Perkins 108-115).

Meanwhile, the empire had to do something about the increasing number of poor people caused by the plundering of its coffers by members of the ruling class. The empire provided free food to the poor in Rome and Constantinople. However, the larger proportion of expenditure on food went to the purchase of exotic spices and other delicacies outside the empire. Eventually, the empire would run out of gold to replenish its coffers and became bankrupt. The rulers stripped assets from provinces, such that they were unable to sustain the Empire’s expenditure. They borrowed from central coffers and fell into debt. It was easy for the emerging factions to break away and seek self-rule because many provinces were in debt, and there were no signs of prosperity. The empire had expanded so much that its system of governance could not support it. The ungovernable size stretched from Spain to the modern day Egypt.

Another cause of the fall of Rome was the natural plagues that affected the health of the Roman population. Diseases coming from West Europe wiped out a significant population. The cost of dealing with the diseases, in addition to the loss of revenue because of workers dying from diseases, became a major contributor to the decline of the Empire.

Christianity flourished in the Roman Empire at the time of Constantine. The emperor gave Christians the freedom to practice their religion within the Empire. He was also available to handle any Christian disputes that emerged regarding control or jurisdiction. Embracing Christianity created conflict with the traditional pagan cults that the Romans practiced. Christianity enjoyed power given to it by the emperor; thus, the other Roman religions died.

The growth of Christianity and its linkage to the rulers of Rome created a complex relationship, where the church officials became as influential as the political leaders. In addition, the political leaders appointed bishops to the early Christianity in the Roman Empire. This arrangement created avenues for lobbying for political or church leadership. With the ongoing corruption in the Empire, Christianity became another channel for exercising opposing powers that would eventually destroy the fabric of leadership in Rome. Christianity eventually became the dominant determinant of morals in Rome, following the destruction of other religions due to the lack of political support. However, the corruption in its leadership served as a bad example to the rest of the Empire and contributed to the overall loss of morals.

The traditional Roman values disappeared as the new faith rose to become a state religion in 380 AD. The Emperor was viewed as a divine being, thereby making people revere the empire. Such beliefs provided the meaning of hard work, sacrifice, and order in the Empire as part of their reverence for the divine one. However, the dominance of Christianity and the destruction of the polytheistic beliefs detached people’s actions from direct implications on the emperor. The popes and church leaders acted as opinion shapers in political matters; thus, the center of spiritual power became decentralized and caused people to have varied inclinations to obey moral conduct. It also created a habit of thinking about self-gain before thinking of the overall welfare of the Empire. The change of beliefs and attitudes contributed to the corruption and plunder of wealth in the Empire (Andrews par. 8).

A combination of corruption and political influences in Rome created laxity in the enforcement of moral conduct among public officials. Eventually, the citizens of Rome became accustomed to their new way of life. Respect for life dwindled; people could easily kill each other following disputes and get away with it because of their affiliation with those in power or because they belonged to a higher social class than their victims.

There was a salient disrespect for human and animal life. The lack of morals eventually created chaos in the public life. At the time, Rome also depended on slave labor. Rome had a high influx of slaves who provided cheap labor for its citizens when the Empire was growing through conquests. Unfortunately, the dependence on slaves became an obsession and a way of life. The citizens failed to do their duties of taking care of others and themselves.

They also reduced their efforts of building wealth and being innovative in finding better ways of doing things. Eventually, the entire Rome was lazy because it mainly relied on slave labor to accomplish even the simplest duties. There was no motivation to excel, while things became mediocre because of too much cheap labor. The standards of work plummeted, and the Empire became uncompetitive.

The problem of depending on slaves added to the problem of the affluent behavior of the rich, who opted to import goods that were not available in the Empire. The quality of products in the Empire was poor; thus, people chose to import rather than focus on improving the quality of the Roman products. Eventually, the imports were more than the exports, and the Empire got into the balance of payment problems.

Rome could not support its huge import bill, in addition to the lack of sufficient technological capacity to support domestic production (Fenner par. 2-4). Slavery dependence robbed Rome of the hard work ethics that it had cultivated among its people during the years of early expansion. The Romans had lost the value of being productive, in addition to their lack of the ability to enhance their production prowess. They had little motivation to find superior sources of energy that would sustain competitiveness and make the Empire prosper in trade, transport, and communications. As a result, the Empire lacked sufficient industries to employ its population and grow its wealth. The economic decline became a significant catalyst for the other problems highlighted above, which eventually caused the fall of Rome (Fenner par. 6-8).

The division of the empire into the West and East side, with capitals in Milan and Constantinople respectively, could also be another reason for the decline. There was a bigger chance of the two halves drifting apart in their political and economic ways due to the lack of a central leadership. The two sides failed to work as one Empire when facing outside threats, which made the Empire vulnerable. Language dominance in the two halves also created divisions, with the Greek-speaking East side enjoying moderate economic success, while the Latin-speaking West side was descending into misery. The symbolic capital of the empire was Rome, which remained vulnerable to the invasion of the Barbarians, as Constantinople remained guarded (Andrews par. 6).

Conclusion

In summary, the key events and causes that led to the fall of Rome were the wrong decisions made by several emperors and the increase in the civilization of the people in the empire. These events led to reduced reliance on military support, which caused the weakening of the army. Invasion of the neighboring Barbarians and their habitation of Rome, such as the settlement of the Visigoths in Moesia, also played a part in destabilizing revenue sources for the Empire. Overall, the lack of innovativeness in the economy and a lot of expenses on an unsustainable expansion and consumption of the ruling class caused Rome to fall. Moderation in expenditure and expansion would have saved Rome from falling.

Works Cited

Andrews, Evan. “8 Reasons Why Rome Fell.” 2014. History Lists. Web.

Atkins, Margaret and Robin Osborne, Poverty in the Roman World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print.

Brown, Peter. Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350 -550 AD. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012. Print.

Fenner, Julian. To What Extent Were Economic Factors to Blame for the Deterioration of the Roman Empire in The Third Century A.D? 2015. Web.

Heather, Peter. The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

Rosenwein, Barbara H. A Short History of the Middle Ages: Fourth Edition, Volume 1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. Print.

Thompson, Edward Arthur. Romans and Barbarians: the Decline of the Western Empire. Madison: Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2002. Print.

Waldman, Carl and Catherine Mason. Encyclopedia of Europeans Peoples. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc., 2006. Print.

Ward-Perkins, Bryan. The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

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